• Lawmakers override Douglas veto, approve gay marriage for Vermont
     | April 08,2009

    Beth Robinson of Montpelier, an attorney for the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, and Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor) share a congratulatory hug Tuesday in the chamber of the Vermont House after it joined the Senate in overriding the governor’s veto of legislation establishing gay marriage in Vermont. Campbell was co-sponsor of the legislation and Robinson a key champion in the legal community.

    MONTPELIER – Vermont has become the fourth state in the country to allow same-sex couples to marry.

    Lawmakers voted Tuesday morning to override Gov. James Douglas' veto of the bill, with a narrow victory in the Vermont House paving the way for the state to become the first to allow same-sex marriage without a court order.

    The move comes nine years after Vermont made history by legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples. Now, it joins a landscape that includes Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa as the only states allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

    "We are not done yet until every lawmaker who voted yes gets 1,000 thank you cards," proclaimed Beth Robinson, an attorney with the group Vermont Freedom to Marry during a Statehouse victory rally after the vote. "We're not done yet until every person who voted for this is reelected in 2010."

    Tears of joy broke out among the large crowd of supporters at the Statehouse after the final vote was announced around 11 a.m. Couples hugged, congratulated supportive lawmakers and began planning for wedding ceremonies in the fall.

    Same-sex couples can begin marrying on Sept. 1, the date the law takes effect.

    Senators easily overrode the Republican governor's veto in a morning vote of 23-5. The vote in the House was more dramatic: 100 members voted to override and 49 voted to sustain the veto. A two-thirds majority is needed to override a veto.

    Rev. Nancy Vogel of Saint Paul's Episcopal Church in White River Junction, who served on a legislative commission to study same-sex marriage last year, said some surprise votes on the House floor and one missing Democrat made her nervous that it would not pass.

    "I was just so afraid that we wouldn't get those 100 votes we needed," said Vogel, who was joined in a civil union with her partner, Cheryl Elinsky, five years ago. "But now we're planning for a Sept. 1 wedding."

    During a brief press conference an hour after the House vote, Douglas said he expected to be overridden by the Legislature, but stood by his veto because he believes marriage is between one man and one woman.

    He declined to congratulate same-sex marriage supporters on their victory.

    "This is not a time for congratulations," said Douglas, who added he believes the debate has been divisive and a distraction for lawmakers. "This is a time to move on."

    Legislative leaders who sponsored the same-sex marriage bills were greeted as heroes at the Statehouse victory rally. Surrounded by applause, Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, jokingly referenced former Gov. Howard Dean's infamous 2004 primary speech by saying, "Next it's onto Maine and then New Hampshire …"

    "I'm so happy to have had the opportunity to change your lives, all of your lives," Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, the vice-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told supporters.

    Rep. William Lippert, D-Hinesburg, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, had tears in his eyes as he spoke to the crowd. When the civil union law passed in 2000, he was the only openly gay member of the House; on Tuesday he was surrounded by colleagues, both straight and gay.

    "Thank you for being part of my world," Lippert told the crowd.

    Robinson had so many lawmakers, volunteers and staff to thank that she joked to the crowd that it was like reading a wedding list.

    "We can do wedding lists now!" someone from the audience shouted.

    Tuesday's override vote was a major loss for same-sex marriage opponents in Vermont, who scrambled to get organized this year after boycotting statewide commission hearings on the subject in 2007 and 2008.

    Steve Cable of Rutland, a founder of the group Vermont Renewal, said same-sex marriage opponents across the state are "blood shooting out of their eyes mad" about the veto override vote.

    Cable said he has already attended two organizational meetings this afternoon to discuss follow-up steps, but he said it is too early to discuss what those might look like.

    "This isn't about moving on," Cable said. "This is about getting even."

    Larry and Elizabeth Messier of Lyndonville walked around the Statehouse Tuesday with their Bibles in their hands. They said they were "standing on the side of God" in opposing same-sex marriage and believe that its passage was a sign of the end of the world.

    "God let this happen today for a reason," Elizabeth Messier said. "And I believe it is because the rapture is coming."

    Only one House member was missing from Tuesday's vote: Rep. Albert Audette, D-South Burlington, who opposed the same-sex marriage bill. He said Tuesday afternoon that he stayed home because he was sick, but probably would have voted to override because he was disappointed in Douglas issuing a veto threat before the House had voted.

    "I didn't have to cross that bridge today," he said.

    Contact Daniel Barlow at Daniel.Barlow@timesargus.com.

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